Centre back pairings and why I love the BFG

Most Gooners these days have grown up watching Wengerball and have a soft spot for technical ‘in the hole’ types such as Fabregas, Cazorla and Ozil. I grew up watching Grahamball and have a soft spot for big centre backs like Adams, Campbell and Mertesacker.

My first ever internet post came when Sol Campbell left (the first time), he may have been on the decline, but it was his head that was going rather than his legs in my opinion. I thought we could have kept him going for another few years and his second spell at the club seemed to confirm that. I am of the opinion that Sol wasn’t adequately replaced (unless you count his brief return) until we signed Per Mertesacker.

The same year that Sol left, we were forced to take William Gallas in part exchange for Cashley. It left us with two very similar centre backs and lacking that big centre back that I love. This was the point at which we became vulnerable from set pieces and also the point at which Wenger seemed to become obsessed with shorter ‘more technical’ centre backs.

The pairing of Gallas and Toure wasn’t helped by their dislike for each other. Also, both needed a big commanding centre back alongside them to perform at their best (Toure-Campbell, Gallas-Desailly/Terry). Their partnership ended in 2009 and Kolo told the press that they ‘didn’t speak to each other’ and that ‘one of them had to go.  It was Kolo who left (albeit to City for a good price).

Kolo Toure was replaced by Thomas Vermaelen, who appeared to be the commanding centre back I had asked for, even if he wasn’t the 6’6 monster I had really wanted. His partnership with Gallas worked better than that of Toure-Gallas, but the lack of height at the back still caused us problems when defending long balls and set pieces. Vermaelen was another ‘technical’ centre back and I still believe that he and Gallas were too similar.

That January Sol Campbell returned and didn’t do too badly. Gallas picked up injuries meaning that Sol got playing time alongside Vermaelen. Despite this, he didn’t stay on in the summer and we had a centre back clear out. Gallas was released along with Philippe Senderos and Mikael Silvestre. This was our opportunity to assemble a centre back pairing capable of following in the footsteps of Adams-Bould and Campbell-Toure. We signed Laurent Koscielny and Sebastian Squillaci and kept Yohan Djourou.

The Koscielny-Vermaelen partnership was disrupted by injuries but Koscielny started to make a name for himself, notably for a performance against Barcelona (although I’d like to point out it that he was playing alongside 6’4 Djourou). Again, our first choice pairing (Koscielny-Vermaelen) were too similar and we still struggled to deal with long balls and set pieces. With Squillaci failing to impress there was room for another centre back. Then along came Per Mertesacker!!!

I’d been wanting a big centre back for years. I’d also followed Mertesacker for years. When we signed him I was shocked that he was only 26 as he seemed to have been around for as long as I could remember (I used to sign him on Championship Manager about five years before we signed him). When many were saying that his lack of pace would mean he’d struggle to fit our system, I was celebrating Wenger’s change of tact in his search for a centre back pairing. Finally we had that big, old fashioned centre half again! He held 75 caps for Germany, the first coming when he was aged 20, the quality and experience was there and this signing made so much sense.

A year on and he had a stint filling in as captain which seemed to bring out another side of him, he became a shouter, an organiser. This is something I didn’t expect. I always saw him as the calming influence and certainly not as an aggressive leader. Despite his size he was never a physical player and his strength was more in reading the game than in using his physical size. One stat I had seen on the Goonersworld forum was that he had been booked 9 times in 200 games before joining us. So this season, even as somebody who was delighted with his signing and expected success from him, I have been pleasantly surprised by his leadership and aggression. His partnership with Koscielny is proving to be one of the best in Europe and after the Cardiff game we have only conceded one goal in our last eight games.

From Gallas-Toure to Gallas-Vermaelen to Vermaelen-Koscielny, for years we have had centre back pairings that are too similar. We have had the same issues defending set pieces and long balls and been needing something different at the back. Finally we have a pairing that complement each other. Finally we have that big centre back and not only that but he is shouting and organising and doing things that I never expected from him. I love our back four, I love our new found defensive stability and I love Per Mertesacker!!!

Gooner Ramble

3 Responses to “Centre back pairings and why I love the BFG

  • Good article mate, first time in a long while I think many gooners have felt comfortable with our back four. We have back up options in all positions and it’s genuinely reassuring.

    The defence play such vital role to our current success.

  • Yes, there is a fantastic balance between the pair. What Per lacks, Kos brings and vice versa. I love to watch how they support each other to nick balls off lone strikers. Even when we played against 2… SAS, they really did a great job. Keep the clean sheets coming!

    When you see how well they compliment each other, you kind of realize how on the other end of the pitch we could use a Suarez type to create a similar partnership up top. We all had our doubts about Suarez after how he finished last season, but Wenger knew what he was doing when he tried to bring him in over the summer.

  • Gallas is a class act, he used to mark strikers like henry out of the game when he was at cehesla. As defenders go he his one of the best in the league and at 31 he is just reaching his peak as a defender. When the ball is on the ground he’s like a wall. How many goals have we conceeded by through balls and dribbling runs? exactly. We have conceeded from the high balls and 30 yard screamers. Gallas is world class but he is not a ball winner in the air, he needs a terry type defender to play next to. I dont believe he is captain material though. He is too tempremental to be a captain and he is admitting he is off form because the pressure is getting to him. I cant believe so many arsenal players are hated at the minute. Eboue Denilson Song Adebayor and Gallas. Thats almost half the team. How do we expect to win anything when half the squad know their own fans dont like them. Come on Gooners get behind your team for fuck sake. Lets give them until the end of the season before you start slagging them all off. Then if we still win nothing then we can complain. The attitude of the players and the manager has been called into question over recent weeks, but many of the fans should look at their own attitudes.Confidence is essential in any sport. How can the arsenal win anything when the fans are constantly booing and writing shit about the players looking for scapegoats and expecting us to win every game 5-0. Gallas costs us goals but he has scored a few too to help us out of the shit.. What we need is a partner for gallas and toure isnt that man as much as i love him he hasnt been in top form since tha ACN last year and Gallas is sufering for it.Lay off him, get behind him and the team. Iv heard some gooners even giving Cesc grief. Do you want to drive them all away???I admit players like Ade deserve the shit he gets but leave it til the end of the season. If he doesnt score 30 goals we can give him all the shit we want. Eboues a mystery to me but he works his bollox off and at a time when the team is being ridiculed for team ethic eboue is standing up and being counted. Wrighty you are spot on. Gallas isnt that bad. The team arent that bad. We just need a spark to kick start us into life.Weve played terrible so far really and we are still fourth and top of our euro league. And i hope your reading White hart warrior cos i believe that spark will come when we muller the spuds in the derby. 6-0, my shit football club supporting friend. Gooners take heart, look on the bright side, look at spurs.

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